The White Slaves of Barbary

The White Slaves of Barbary

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Much attention and condemnation has been directed towards the tragedy of the African slave trade, which took place between the 16 th and the 19 th centuries. However, another equally despicable trade in humans was taking place around the same time in the Mediterranean.  It is estimated that up to 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved by the so-called Barbary corsairs, and their lives were just as pitiful as their African counterparts. They have come to be known as the white slaves of Barbary.

Slavery is one of the oldest trades known to man. We can first find records of the slave trade dating back to The Code of Hammurabi in Babylon in the 18th century BCE. People from virtually every major culture, civilization, and religious background have made slaves of their own and enslaved other peoples. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the prolific slave trade that was carried out by pirates, or corsairs, along the Barbary coast (as it was called by Europeans at the time), in what is now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, beginning around 1600 AD.

Anyone travelling in the Mediterranean at the time faced the real prospect of being captured by the Corsairs and taken to Barbary Coast cities and being sold as slaves. 

However, not content with attacking ships and sailors, the corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, and even as far away as the Netherlands and Iceland.  They landed on unguarded beaches, and crept up on villages in the dark to capture their victims.  Almost all the inhabitants of the village of Baltimore, in Ireland, were taken in this way in 1631.  As a result of this threat, numerous coastal towns in the Mediterranean were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants until the 19 th century.

Captured victims arrive on the Barbary coast

Captured victims arrive on the Barbary coast to be sold as slaves. Image source .

In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was Christian pirates, primarily from Catalonia and Sicily, that dominated the seas, posing a constant threat to merchants. It was not until the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15 th century that the Barbary corsairs started to become a menace to Christian shipping.

Around 1600 AD, European pirates brought advanced sailing and shipbuilding techniques to the Barbary Coast, which enabled the corsairs to extend their activities into the Atlantic Ocean, and the impact of Barbary raids peaked in the early to mid-17th century.

While the Barbary slave trade is typically portrayed as Muslim corsairs capturing white Christian victims, this is far too simplistic.  In reality, the corsairs were not concerned with the race or religious orientation of those they captured. Slaves in Barbary could be black, brown or white, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or Muslim. And the corsairs were not only Muslim; English privateers and Dutch captains also exploited the changing loyalties of an era in which friends could become enemies and enemies friends with the stroke of a pen.

"One of the things that both the public and many scholars have tended to take as given is that slavery was always racial in nature,” said historian Robert Davis, author of Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy . “But that is not true," he added.

In comments which may stoke controversy, Davis claims that white slavery had been minimised or ignored because academics preferred to treat Europeans as evil colonialists rather than as victims.

The Barbary slave trade

The Barbary slave trade is typically depicted as Muslims capturing white Christians, such as in the artwork above, but this is not entirely accurate. Image source.

Life as a Barbary Slave

The slaves captured by the Barbary pirates faced a grim future. Many died on the ships during the long voyage back to North Africa due to disease or lack of food and water. Those who survived were taken to slave markets where they would stand for hours while buyers inspected them before they were sold at auction.

After purchase, slaves would be put to work in various ways. Men were usually assigned to hard manual labour, such as working in quarries or heavy construction, while women were used for housework or in sexual servitude.  At night the slaves were put into prisons called 'bagnios' that were often hot and overcrowded. However, by far the worst fate for a Barbary slave was being assigned to man the oars of galleys. Rowers were shackled where they sat, and never allowed to leave. Sleeping, eating, defecation and urination took place at the seat. Overseers would crack the whip over the bare backs of any slaves considered not to be working hard enough.


Historians are trying to whitewash the entire history of the Barbary Coast and what happened there in past centuries. The majority of the slavers were Muslim. The majority of the slave owners were Muslim. The majority of the slaves were NOT originally Muslim. Hundreds of thousands were forcibly converted after they were captured which can add to the image that there were Muslim slaves who were captured as Muslims.

Any research that refutes the fact that it was primarily Muslims who captured, sold and owned slaves is ignoring hundreds of years of history for the sake of political correctness. Research that looks at the truth should not be considered racist as Islam is not a race, but an ideology.

...and echoes of my thoughts. I also find it very "convenient" that the author only lightly brushes upon the fact that Africans were sold as slaves and then moves on - no further information is provided (yet more ignoring facts for the sake of sugarcoating). What the author very conveniently *forgot* to mention is it was actually other Africans who sold their fellow countrymen into slavery - generally tribesmen captured during battle and or raids. So basically, blacks sold blacks to _others_...not just whites.

Slavery is a very old tradition, at least that fact wasn't conveniently *forgotten*, and is responsible for some of the greatest achievements in history. The Roman aqueducts, the Egyptian pyramids, and countless other creations, are the direct result of slave labor. People seem to forget this and focus, instead, on the "horrors" of only the slavery of blacks over about two hundred years instead of the entire history of more than 4,000 years of slavery. And let's be fair about this, slavery wasn't always such a bad thing. In both Egypt and Rome, slaves were actually treated quite well if they behaved. They were provided food, shelter, clothing and protection in return for them service. Additionally, in ancient Greece, a slave could actually work his or her way out of servitude and become a property, and even business, owner. In fact, the Greeks had a far different view of slaves and slavery. You weren't automatically a lesser person just because you were a slave. And capitol crimes such as murder were handled differently. If a person murdered another, the murderer was sentenced to seven years of indentured servitude to the family of the victim. This isn't to say that the murderer might not meet with an untimely demise, but slavery, in general, has had a very long existence and encompassed a multitude of both cultures and races.

It would be a welcome breath of fresh air if people could actually focus on the *entire* history of slavery, instead of the convenience of one small chunk of time that suits their agenda, as well as stop demanding, expecting and clamoring for restitution from the descendants of slave owners who have never actually wronged the descendants of slaves.

aprilholloway's picture

It was not 'convenient' to lightly touch on the African slave trade, it was intentional.  This article was written to focus on one specific aspect of slave history, one that is lesser known.  The African slave trade is another whole subject altogether and requires an article of its own.  


Yes, the subject was intentionally avoided. The last thing the author, or anyone interested in obfuscating the truth, wants anyone else to know is that blacks sold blacks into slavery. It wasn't whites who went to Africa and 'took them from their homes.' It's called "history." And like it or not, it's also the truth.

aprilholloway's picture

As I previously said, the article was not about black slavery. If you think this article is about "obfuscating the truth", you must be new around here and not realize what we are all about. 

Hmmm. We must be talking about two completely different articles of which you are the author. The first paragraph of the article _I read_ began with, "Much attention and condemnation has been directed towards the tragedy of the African slave trade, which took place between the 16th and the 19th centuries. The vast majority of those enslaved were from the central and western parts of Africa, sold to European slave traders and transported to the New World." So those few sentences were clearly talking about something totally different than what they plainly stated...about blacks being enslaved *by whites*? Those sentences, in your opening paragraph, sound pretty black and white to me (double entendre intended).

So here's where it becomes conditional: If it truly was not your intention to conveniently "forget" a historical truth, especially one of such magnitude, then I postulate that you are another young face in a sea of unwitting youth whose views and mindset have been surreptitiously, and intentionally, skewered by the media you grew up with. The media has picked and chosen what part(s) of a truth it reports since its inception into society. And the media has become racially biased, especially over the last two to three decades, by eagerly reporting when a black person is harmed by a white, even if it's been in self-defense. It's labeled a racially motivated hate crime. But flip the roles, with the exact same situation, and no one even gives it a second thought if a black person harms\kills a white person. This type of askew reporting has finally warped the aspects, perspective and perceptions of our youth to see white-on-black crimes as horrific, while black-on-white crimes are "the norm" or somehow okay.

And our media-warped society has now adopted some very racially-reversed mindsets. For example, it's now apparently socially acceptable for a black person to address another black person as the dreaded "N-word," but if a white person does it, it's immediate racism, regardless of the situation or circumstance. Now, before you hit the REPLY button, actually go back and read what I just said in that last sentence. One color is saying that people of their *same* color can do something that people of *another* color should not be allowed to do...and these people's opinion are based solely on the color of the other person's skin. That, Ms. Holloway, is racial prejudice, not racism.

On the flip-side of my proposed conditional, if you do not truly believe that you have allowed the media to warp your perspective into this racially myopic mindset, then, and only then, do I feel that was there an obvious slant geared toward recognizing the enslavement of blacks *by whites,* while at the same time obfuscating that those selfsame blacks were sold *by blacks* to those whites. If a person is going to bring black slavery into an issue about white slavery, the more historically, and accurate, correct way to have begun that article would have been with the simple inclusion, "The vast majority of those enslaved were from the central and western parts of Africa, sold *by their own countrymen after having been captured in battle or raids,* to European slave traders..."

I do, however, wish to take a moment to commend you on your obvious intelligence and the correct use of grammar, punctuation and spelling. With computers now an integral part of society, there is absolutely zero excuse for published articles, albeit online or hard copy, to contain any grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors. And yet it's become disgustingly rare to find an online article with both structure and cohesion that contains no grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. Thank you for that breath of fresh air.

In closing, and finality, if someone is going to paint an historical picture of such a sensitive subject, Ms. Holloway, they need to use a finer brush with fewer to no broad strokes.

"And yet it's become disgustingly rare..." Hey, know-it-all condescending jerk, "it's" is the contraction for it is. Now reread your sentence with this bit of new knowledge. Would be refreshing if you made a correction. :)

"it's". Is also correctly a contraction of IT HAS, ergo, the term was used properly.

Scruffy, if you are not satisfied with Ms. Holloway's article, perhaps you should write one yourself and close any gaps in the research. Certainly your comment was of sufficient length to suggest you might
write such an article.

Great commentary, I enjoyed it immensely. :)

I smell a liberal arts or soft science Bachelors. Nice latent attack on the simplicities of the author using correct grammar. I feel the article opened fine as the image of the black transatlantic chatal slavery is the common imagery when discussing slavery in America. Third grade textbooks are littered with your rudimentary fact that the slave trade was predominantly composed of Africansfor approximately 3 centuries in the US. It seems an exercise in redundancy to open the article with slavery the historical atrocity affecting a majority of Africans (a blatant fallacy compared the the world history of slavery) when it is already the common knowledge of most people. What I found refreshing is a different perspective depicting world events regarding an issue steeped in nearly all cultures around the world.

yes there were white slaves, but they did not suffer like the black slave trade as we were strip of our names, language, culture, religion, lost of life, and human dignity. they did not lose as many lives as we did [ two hundred million people ] like you stated his- story what about our- story or my- story. sure blacks sold blacks but it wasn't to strip them of there human dignity or to degrade them in your so-called his-story. facts are facts. this is right knowledge.!

You know for a fact that the white slaves weren't stripped of their identity or saw the same kind of degradation? Provide proof please.

How can anyone with even the least bit of education make comments that blacks being sold by their own people into a life of assured pain and suffering wasn't meant to strip them of the same rights white slave owners did ? It's even worse because their own people didn't care what fate they met. And how dare anyone say that white slaves didn't suffer as badly as black slaves ? I suppose it make it difficult to use slavery as an excuse if every race was afflicted by it.

Yeah I'm pretty sure that SLAVES are not treated fairly I'm pretty sure that a white slave was treated just as badly..
That's kind of the point of being A SLAVE is that you are stripped of you're identity and I'm pretty sure that BEING SOMEONE PROPERTY is degrading no matter what skin color you are...

literally the only reason you said that is because you're bias toward whites..

I would rather be stripped of my name than be worked to death. There's no eventual freedom from that.

Seriously? You don't think that blacks (and Arabs, if we want to characterize the African slave trade correctly) intended to reduce them to property, to take away their identity, lives, etc? Sure they did, at least as much as the whites who bought them. One can actually argue that none of them really set out to do it as a form of attack on identity, it was simply that all of them wanted to make MONEY. All of the forms of slavery being discussed here were expressly concerned with greed, not some plan to dehumanize.

More accurately, every form of slavery in history or before was about greed. Nobody cared how their slaves felt, or whether they lost their identity, etc etc. They saw slaves as a form of capital.

I agree that it always has been about greed, as it is today (remember, the slave trade still exists today, though this is fueled as much by sexual desires as by greed); however, there are SOME, admittedly VERY few, slave owners who do care about their slaves in a totally contradictory and mental kind of way. Just in the two slave accounts I have read, there has been ONE of those "good" slave owners each. Of course, hyperbole over accuracy is a common tactic today.

A prison with a couch and drapes on the windows is still a prison

Actually, for the majority of the history of enslavement, money had only a secondary role in its prevalence around the world. Slaves were almost exclusively taken after a battle- because the men were dead and the victors began taking the surviving women and children- not as a means to make money or increase personal wealth, but because at some point, they discovered that doing so solved two huge problems in early human history- genetic diversity and a brain growing large enough to make the connection of birth defects resulting from in-breeding, and the second problem was the dawning of a sense of morality, believe it or not. Women with young children couldn't hunt and forage effectively while caring for children, so the victors of conflicts began to take the women and children home with them, rather than simply killing them along with their men. So no, slavery didn't always occur as a result of greed or even a belief in their enemy's inferiority. Slavery most likely began as a way to acquire fresh genetic material, while assuaging a blossoming conscience.

Actually, it seems to be very "right on" & "cool" to say that they are going to enslave whites one day soon in the future!
I definitely see no peer condemnation when blacks so lackadaisically talk about & degrade "the white man" right in online comments where the world can see they give not one thought to anyone else's culture or race but their own.
Not anymore.
Not when the state is raising these kids. And raising them to hate as if it is merely retribution which that old disgusting "white man" deserves.

"they did not lose as many lives as we did [ two hundred million people ]"

That's a neat trick, given that the population of Africa in 1750 was only 106 million.

Quite the opposite, really. Most white slaves did not survive past a young age -- hence you don't see a significant white population in those regions today. Black slaves for the most part did not survive any better, unless you were among the 4 percent taken to the American colonies. Life expectancy, mortality rates, diets, etc. were nearly identical among black slaves and the average white citizen in those days.
Hence, you see large black populations in those regions today.

"... white slaves, but they did not suffer like the black slave... "
Perhaps not to your knowledge; but you might want to consider that the white slaves from Ireland were not considered in the same high regard as black slaves were. Black slaves were much more valuable; and considered more trustworthy and hard-working. And so they were much better cared for. My family's Irish history informs we of this, as do financial records of slave owners and historical records.
Facts are facts. Slavery sucks, no matter who is enslaved.
Do we hold those that previously owned us in contempt? No, that was generations ago.
The past.
About which nothing can be done to change what happened, or to whom it happened. One can only go forward from where you start, no sense in living in the past; even if there is much to be learned from it.
Time to get over it; we did.

You have records of the slave owners that owned your Irish family? Would you be willing to share them with me?

So blacks sold blacks to make them feel good about themselves? Also, white slaves were taken from their homes, but were not stripped of their language, culture, religion..blah blah blah? I guess white slaves were partying, while black slaves were the only ones to suffer. Slavery is slavery and knows no color boundaries. The only reason people know how blacks suffered is because they are the only ones history, my story and your story talk about. You sound very immature in your reasoning.

200 million? That is false, where did you get that figure from? Around 12 million african slaves shipped to the new world, only around 350,000 landing in america.

Do you really know what the white slaves went through? Doubtful since you were not there.
Did you know the first black slave owner in the USA was a black man who took another black man to court in order to be able to own him? Probably not, since we were all taught in school that it was whites owning blacks. Do some research. Find the real answers.

Sentiankhre, I WANT PROOF!! Show me where Black slaves were treated worse than White slaves!! I think you are misspoken in this instance and I am calling you out to PROVE what you say is true...

The title of his article is called the white slaves of Barbary. Not to be rude, but are you dense? The fact that he mentioned the black slaves at all was just a lead in to this story. Everything you may say about the blacks selling blacks into slavery may be true(and no I am not debating that fact) but it has absolutely nothing to do with this persons article.

You speak as if this is some great, conspiracy and that the truth is being systematically covered up. The fact that black African slave traders kept and sold black slaves was a topic taught in junior high History classes while I was in high school, not long ago at all. Are you looking to create conspiracies where there are none, or were you honestly ignorant to the fact that this is public and common knowledge. Yes - the information was only briefly mentioned in this article, however, this was an article covering one specific aspect of slavery over the millenia. Your comment is akin to becoming indignantly enraged that nobody bothered to mention apples in an article about pizza. After all, they're both foods... clearly this represents an effort to discriminate against apples and manipulate the public. Seriously kid, calm down ;)

I was delighted to read a well-researched and foot-noted article about the corsairs and white slavery. I agree with April: her focus was on this topic. Black slavery has been written about extensively. Even more needs to be written about the Muslim slavery of whites. Thank you, April.

Another wrong "fact". The African kings who didn't sell their own people into slavery were beheaded and slain in other gruesome ways. So when other kings heard of these things they capitulated so they wouldn't meet the same fate. But as long as you prescribe to mainstream media you'll belive that which you just posted.

Let me get this straight. Africans built ships and forced other Africans on to the to ship them to the West to be sold as slave?

Slavery whether white on black or black on white was evil and blacks northern africa did own white slave as well as a matter of fact also conquered france italy and spain.barbers of north africa enslave European slavic people got thier from the arabic word slav which actually means slave aint no race superior than the other and we habe grown as a one race the human race but lets also acknowledged all slavery not just black on black or white on black.

I do not know if you perceive, but he not talking about black slavery, nor did say that black slavery is a lie.

He want to say that unscrupulous, perverse and malicious people minimize white slavery.

And if you do not know, the responsible by the black and white slavery was the jew.

One form of slave owner ship is the black plantation owners in the south who had black slaves. They were neighbors with the white slave owners. Had the same status in their society. Never hear about that do we. I wonder how many blacks today have black slave owners in the ancestry?

Very few.

"And let's be fair about this, slavery wasn't always such a bad thing. In both Egypt and Rome, slaves were actually treated quite well if they behaved."

Oh come on, you must be trolling!

BTW, the pyramids being built by slaves was already proved to be false theory.

Not so. The remains of millions of Slaves are found now within ten kilometers East of every big work in Afrika. European Slaves! White People the People of Noah and Moses. For +8 millenia by the hundreds of millions dragged toward east afrika china japan en middle east. Even the japanese animé cartoonists can draw almost no other cartoon from their guilty smeared collective subconciousness than White Blonde and Redhead Women torn to pieces by torture and rape atwhile abused and humiliated.

And even till this day 1 million Children a year dissapeared out of Europe alone let alone the rest of this World! Our several nowadays Slave masters just turned all historywritings into the opposites and teached that to the White and black Slave Childen!

Durf - Um, the people of Noah and Moses weren't white. They were Middle Eastern. Canaanite, Arabic, Israelite, choose your term, but certainly not white.

>>the people of Noah and Moses weren't white.
>>They were Middle Eastern. Canaanite, Arabic, Israelite,

Derrr - the Israelites were the Jews. And what colour do you think the Jews are? I'll give you one guess.


I'll give you one guess. THEY WERE BROWN

Are you aware that 'Aryans' are from what was once known as Persia?

Do you know much about the people that made up India, or their 'caste' system? Who are the ones that make up the top (highest) caste of people? Check it out.

How insidiously stupid you are. Japheths and goners line never were enslaved in Egypt. The tribe of Shem was and the non Semitic Ashkenazi Jews who can catch Tay Sachs disease, which is a non Semite disease never set foot in Egypt. Pharaoh Joseph and his people were not Ashkenazi because they weren't decendents of Japheth or gomer or Ashkenaz. So get your facts straight and secondly the color of anime characters hair and eyes has nothing to do with race. Characters with different color types of hair have personality tendencies look it up. It's part of the art form.

Even the now found hundreds of wooden en earthwallcircles found in Europe and also hundreds in Afrika of stone design of about 300 meters diameter were to drive People in and transport them as Slaves to the empires of asia china egypt.

btw these Slave kraals were later changed for castles churches monasteries schools armies jails militairy bases and duty where the Slaves serve(d) and were(are) abused like the policeman politician mayor judge employee etc etc for the plundering rapists against own People act ...self suppressing .. evolution Baby !!

btw did you know even our churches had minarettes ie goo ole islamtowers to throw none beliefers off and were changed into alarmbelltowers in the European semite wars...BUT islamic...whole of christianity and roman empire also already were Slave gatherers of the south. See things like the abduction of the Sabene Women at wikipedia by the roman jews(eurasian Slave traders and keepers till todays.) About nothing else they did in Europe. Are also now our formost censorisers lawmakers banks nobils and goverments

The Bible talks about the Israeli slaves building structures during the reign of Ramses II. The slaves were rebelling because the rules changed and they had to get their own hay for the brick making.

Just a quick historical update for all the Bible scholars posting....there has never been ANY evidence of Jew even living in mass in Egypt, let alone slave. Ramses, nor the second one mention them.


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